April 28, 2011
The Yomiuri Shimbun
The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun's April 28 issue.
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"My first Japanese 'friends' were all dead."
Donald Keene, a leading scholar of Japanese literature, was once quoted as making that statement in a dialogue with Japanese authors.
The 88-year-old professor emeritus at Columbia University learned the Japanese language while serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He was translating diaries of Japanese soldiers that were left on battlefields. That was the beginning of his dedicated ties with Japan. His "first Japanese friends" referred to those nameless soldiers who wrote the diaries.
Both the beginning of his friendship with the Japanese and the depth of its maturity have been influenced by a slew of deaths. After the Great East Japan Earthquake, Keene decided to gain Japanese citizenship and live permanently in Japan. He said the decision came as he wanted to act in concert with the Japanese people.
In giving thoughts to Japanese literature, he cultivated his insights and philosophical views into humanity and life. He even said in the writers' dialogue, "If Japan didn't exist, I wonder if I could have grown as a decent human being."
Keene's determination to share the hardships of people affected in the wake of the catastrophic disaster must be the ultimate expression of his affection to the nation he loves. He delivered his final lecture at Columbia on April 26. He is expected to move to Tokyo by autumn.
What shall we say? "Welcome!" or "Welcome home"? Or "Thank you"? I wonder what would be the best words to greet such a long-distance friend?
(May. 2, 2011)